Super-skeptic, Joe Nickell


As the popular media descends into their seasonal all-things-spooky motif, you can bet real money that Joe Nickell, super-skeptic and self-proclaimed debunker of ghostly phenomena, gets his share of attention alongside ghost hunters and haunted hotel tour guides. We give the guy credit for sticking at his craft for as long as he has, and we’re generally (very generally) sympathetic with the basic premise that simply not knowing what made a noise or an anomalous image doesn’t mean you’ve witnessed a visitation from The Other Side.

We caught this piece on NBC News the other day, here’s a cut:

Nickell learned a lot from that first case. “You must go on site, and you must investigate just like any other piece of detective work,” Nickell said. “You can treat the house as a sort of crime scene.”

Other cases involved spirit photographs, such as the ones that show orbs or bright streaks. One family called Nickell in to explain a series of pictures that showed bright, hazy loops of energy in the foreground. Nickell eventually figured out that the loops were created when a flash bounced off a camera strap dangling in front of the lens. “Now we know about the camera-strap effect,” Nickell said.

Fair enough, but with all due respect to Nickell, the great majority of amateur ghost hunting teams (not all of them, and we know this…) take great pains to debunk and rationalize their evidence, and the whole camera-strap effect (once heavily promoted by Dr. Dave Oester on his site) fell long ago into the dustbin of ghost-hunting evidentiature. No one who takes themselves seriously as a ghost hunter would trumpet a camera-strap image as evidence of spirit activity.

Nickell starts with the premise that ghosts are a figment of our imagination and a product of wishful thinking. Most of us start with the premise that there just might be something happening that is both maddeningly elusive and profound in its implications about the human condition. Nickell may think it’s all silly, but we look, and keep looking…just like him.

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